Student-Run Businesses Provide Bridgeport Young Adults with Valuable Vocational Experience


Students at The Help Group’s Bridgeport Vocational Education Center are celebrating their successes this winter and planning several exciting new initiatives. Lulu’s, the student-run store on the Sherman Oaks Campus, is celebrating its third year in operation. Popular from opening day, Lulu’s serves a variety of breakfast and lunch items for purchase, including baked goods, salads, and panini sandwiches. In response to customer feedback, Lulu’s now offers delivery service to Help Group staff throughout the Sherman Oaks Campus. Bridgeport students are involved in every aspect of planning and running Lulu’s – from inventory management, shopping, preparing salads, baking cookies, assisting customers, filling orders, making deliveries and handling payments.

“Lulu’s has been a wonderful experience for our students, and we want to build from that success to offer other vocational training experiences as well,” explained Bridgeport Voc. Ed. Center Assistant Principal Andi Armbutsmayan. “For example, many of our students have a strong interest in technology and are skilled at using the Internet.”

This spring the Voc. Ed. Center plans to launch an online vintage boutique. For several years, the Center has hosted a monthly clothing sale on its campus, passing on donations and selling them to the Van Nuys community for $1 each. Students learn how to sort through the donations, how to fold and display the clothes at the sale, how to interact with customers and how to handle very basic cash payments. Some of the students who work at the monthly clothing store move on to internships at local stores like T.J. Maxx and Best Buy. The online boutique will provide new opportunities for students to learn how to run and market a web-based clothing business.

Another new student-run venture is “upcycling” found or donated items to refurbish them for sale at the monthly clothing store and eventually, in the online boutique. Students are learning how to refinish furniture using woodworking skills like sanding and painting.

Finally, the Center is in the early stages of adding an environmental landscaping business for students. Students have visited the garden store to purchase seeds and research how much sun and water their new plants will need. They’ve planted a garden and are taking responsibility for caring for the plants every day. As the students succeed with their own garden, they plan to reach out to local businesses to offer their services planting and caring for plants and flowers.

“We are so proud of our Bridgeport Voc. Ed. Center students for their efforts to launch and make these new ventures successful. This experience will prepare them for bright futures in the workplace and greater levels of independence,” said Pamela Clark, Director of Autism Schools.

About the Vocational Education Center:

The Center offers a unique learning environment for young adults with special needs ages 18 to 22 where they can develop and master the critical skills necessary for a successful transition from school to adult independence. Located in Van Nuys, the Center is a one-of-a-kind program that combines classroom instruction with real world application. To learn more about the Center or to schedule a tour, please contact The Help Group’s Admissions Office.